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By Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published December 01 2010

Time’s up for Fighting Sioux nickname

GRAND FORKS – An NCAA spokesman indicated Tuesday that an appeal by members of the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe will not change the established timeline for retirement of the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.

“The issue is already settled,” said Erik Christianson, director of public and media relations. “The university and the State Board of Higher Education have determined there will be a change to a new nickname and logo.”

Also, Peter Johnson, a spokesman for UND President Robert Kelley, said Tuesday that the university is “still operating under the direction of the State Board, which directed the president to start the process of transitioning away from the logo.”

Neither the passing of the deadline nor the Spirit Lake appeal were mentioned Tuesday night as members of a transition committee met on campus to work on recommendations concerning use of the logo by a wide variety of groups and programs, from the Alumni Association’s Sioux Award to the Fighting Sioux ROTC Battalion, from traditional athletic “fight” songs and cheers to logos on UND Aerospace airplanes.

Judging by responses to questionnaires circulated among committee members, there appears to be strong sentiment to recommend that the name and logo be retired across the board, except for historical collections and displays.

“It seems silly to me that the university would get rid of all athletic uses of the name and keep others,” said committee member Eric Lunn, a Grand Forks pediatrician and president of the school board. “It’s time to move on (and) make a complete break.”

The committee will meet again Dec. 14 and hopes to have recommendations for Kelley in January.

The Spirit Lake tribal members, led by longtime logo champion Eunice Davidson, contacted NCAA officials Monday, asking that the athletic association “re-examine” the 2007 legal settlement it reached with the State Board.

That settlement gave the university until this fall to win authorization for continued use of the nickname by the two namesake tribes, the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux. A deadline of Oct. 1 was later extended to Nov. 30.

Spirit Lake gave its consent in a referendum and tribal council action last year, but repeated efforts by nickname supporters to arrange a vote at Standing Rock failed. With no authorization appearing likely from Standing Rock, the State Board of Higher Education decided in April to direct UND to begin transitioning away from the 80-year-old nickname.

In June, the Standing Rock Tribal Council voted to reaffirm an earlier decision asking that the nickname be dropped.

“The NCAA is correct in that we did enter into a settlement agreement,” said Grant Shaft, Grand Forks, a member of the State Board.

“We made every possible effort toward meeting the three-year deadline for getting the tribes’ approval,” Shaft said. “We were able to get approval from Spirit Lake. We were not able to get approval from Standing Rock. And now the time has run out.”

Archie Fool Bear, a leader of efforts at Standing Rock to support UND’s use of the Sioux name, said Tuesday that he supports the Spirit Lake members’ appeal and continues to work for a vote on his reservation.

He and other nickname supporters, who petitioned the Standing Rock Tribal Council in April to allow a reservation-wide vote on the nickname issue, have filed a writ with the tribal court “to have the court oversee what we’re trying to do down here,” he said.

“We’ve been stymied (by the council) since April,” he said. “In April and again in May, the council said they weren’t going to do anything until the nickname was retired. Then in June, when they were notified it had been retired, they said they weren’t going to do anything – because it was retired.

“The council played politics, and it was a foolish waste of time,” Fool Bear said. “Their ultimate decision to not do anything was a violation of the people’s right to be heard.”

The Standing Rock Tribal Council, after receiving the petitions from nickname supporters and from tribal members opposed to the nickname – each bearing about 1,000 signatures – voted 10-4 on June 17 to end discussion of the issue.

“This is our final decision because there are too many other priority matters that must be dealt with,” Jesse Taken Alive, a council member and nickname opponent, said at the time. “The motion stipulated that there is no need to talk about it any more.”

Taken Alive did not respond to an interview request Tuesday.

UND’s transition to be complete next summer

After the North Dakota Board of Higher Education directed the University of North Dakota in April to begin the transition away from the Fighting Sioux nickname and Indian-head symbols, UND and the Licensing Resource Group of Holland, Mich., began developing a timeline for their retirement.

Because of existing licensing and contractual obligations, UND President Robert Kelley told the University Senate, “We will use the Fighting Sioux name and logo through the coming year” in a gradual transition.

July 1, 2010: The logo and nickname were to be removed from a trademark artwork website. Vendors holding “Sioux head” and standard UND licenses would be renewed for a year, but no new “Sioux head” licenses would be issued.

Oct. 1, 2010: No new designs for jerseys, coffee mugs and other merchandize bearing the Fighting Sioux logo or nickname will be approved.

July 1, 2011: All Fighting Sioux-branded merchandise must be off retail floors unless authorized by the university. For the following two weeks, representatives of UND and LRG will visit retailers in the region “to ensure no Fighting Sioux merchandise is being sold at retail,” according to the transition memo. “Any merchandise found would be subject to confiscation.”

Aug. 25, 2011: The transition is completed.

Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald